Today, Lake Country has five schools: three elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school. However, it didn’t use to be like that! Before cars were common, children had to walk to school. Or, if they were lucky, they could travel by wagon or horseback. This meant that if they lived in Okanagan Centre, for example, they would have struggled to make it to school in Winfield. For that reason, there was a proliferation of small, one room schoolhouses.
Over time, these schoolhouses opened and closed. They had to have a minimum of seven students to keep them running. Some schools, such as the Fir Valley School, opened and closed multiple times as the number of students grew and shrank. While some schools remained open for many decades, others only existed for a short time. It all depended on the population.
These small schoolhouses, as you can imagine, couldn’t support students’ education past a certain point. If the students wanted to continue on to grade nine, they had to travel all the way to Rutland – quite the distance in a time before fast transportation by cars! For many children, that wasn’t an option. They were often needed to work on the family farm or in the business.
The building that our illustrious museum now occupies used to be one of these small, one room schoolhouses. If you’ve ever gone through the door, you may have seen “Okanagan Centre School” stenciled on the front window. The Okanagan Centre School began life in 1911 as a one room schoolhouse. In the early 1930s, students moved into the new schoolhouse, as the old one was no longer suitable and the class size had outgrown it. Then, in the 1950s, a second room was added on. The number of children in the area had grown, so the school had to grow accordingly.
The Okanagan Centre School was one of the longer-lived schools in the area, surviving up until 1984. At the end of its life, it was a school for grade five students. Other elementary schools in the area didn’t have enough room for them, so they were bussed over to Okanagan Centre. When Davidson Road Elementary School was finally complete, the Okanagan Centre School closed down for good. Some people in the area still remember going to school in the building.
In 1985, the Okanagan Centre School reopened – but as a school no longer. No, now it was a museum! While us here at the Lake Country Museum and Archives are just as dedicated to education as the school was, we continue on in a different capacity. We tell the story of Lake Country while providing an opportunity to learn through research, education and collaboration.
Jintia Ross-Van Mierlo